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“Inclusive future” in the spotlight at NAFSA 2023

Attendees at the NAFSA conference in Washington DC lauded the event’s true “back to business feel” after years of Covid-induced turbulence.

Nadia Murad told delegates that funding and protecting women's education is imperative in her keynote speech. Photo: NAFSA

The opening plenary was given by Nobel Peace Prize winner Nadia Murad

The CEO of NAFSA, Fanta Aw, acknowledged that it takes a “village” to put on the organisation’s conference, as the attendees celebrated an overarching theme of “inspiring an inclusive future”.

More than 8,000 people attended the 2023 event – not up to the usual numbers of 10,000, but climbing fast after two years of Covid-style conferences – and a cancelled event in 2020.

The opening plenary was given by Nobel Peace Prize winner Nadia Murad, who told delegates that the industry’s value is more important than ever before, especially given her own experiences.

“Education teaches us about others – about respect, about kindness and about love,” she said.

“It starts in the cradle, with compassion and tolerance of other people; treating boys and girls equally, celebrating differences and highlighting similarities.

“Once we start school through literature and history, we can appreciate each other’s cultures and countries. We can more easily imagine their thoughts and feelings,” she continued.

Murad’s story, wherein she was raped, tortured and kidnapped by the Islamic State in Iraq, touched many delegates, but her consistent dedication to education bridging gaps inspired many, aligning closely with the conference’s theme.

“My female friends and I knew in our bones that education would lead to better jobs and better wages. In fact, a single year of primary education has been shown to increase a girl’s wage later in life by 20%,” she noted.

“Education teaches us about others – about respect”

“But more than this, educating that girl will also improve her family’s future and teach her independence.

“We also need to do more around human rights. We still have a lot to do to make woman’s rights human rights,” said Murad.

Speaking of inclusivity, NAFSA’s sessions covered a breadth of different workshops and topics on just that.

On a panel examining how staff can help LGBTQIA+ students feel more comfortable whilst studying abroad, one delegate said there were difficulties with some aspects of the LGBTQIA+ experience when studying abroad, especially for students going to the Middle East – where legality can even be a problem.

“We’re having these conversations, difficult ones, but ones that need to happen. We can’t pretend that these difficulties don’t exist in the Middle East, but we can get in trouble for even talking about it with students,” the delegate said.

Jena Curtis of SUNY Cortland, leading the session, said the legal frameworks often present a challenge – even at home in the US, where many legal frameworks directly, negatively affecting LGBTQIA+ people are being drafted and written into law.

Another delegate, LaKendra Brunston-Parker, who spoke to The PIE News at the conference, told of how NAFSA’s quest to continue inclusivity actively supports her own organisation for study abroad.

“The pulse around is that the price is a big issue”

StudyAbroad4711 is an agency study abroad provider that gives HBCU students an affordable opportunity to study worldwide, at the price points of only $4,000, $7,000 and $11,000.”

Students that have gone on to study abroad with the company are from various HBCUs, including Morgan State University and Virginia University, out of which Brunston-Parker is based.

“I love NAFSA. I don’t like conferences per se, because they always have discussions – especially around DEI – on how and there’s no implementation. For me, NAFSA is a place where I can literally see the how and I now have the tools and information that I can implement at StudyAbroad4711,” she added.

However, in a year where there was an expectation that the attendance would be bigger than ever before, others at NAFSA also disclosed to The PIE that the conference’s steeper price tag somewhat did not reflect the experience they may have been able to get out of it.

“I’m personally not finding it as busy as I expected it to be – it’s slightly better off than last year in Denver when we were still coming out of Covid – but the pulse around is that the price is a big issue,” Sushil Sukhwani, director of EDWISE International told The PIE.

He also said that while Canada is still the number one destination for India in his experience and the UK still going strong at second the US is still in third position, despite the UK’s recent negative rhetoric against international students, and Canada’s issues with student deportation.

“Most go to the US for STEM designated programs – you may get some for the premium finance or STEM MBAs. The demand is definitely there, and the US has great career options demand is that the U.S. has good career options, but does not have good immigration opportunities,” Sukhwani noted.

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